Safeguards plea by consumers: Regulations must stay despite attack on red tape, Government told

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THE NATIONAL Consumers' Council is concerned that the Government's plan for an attack on business red tape could make consumers more vunerable.

It says that nine out of 10 consumers it polled want consumer protection regulations to remain the responsibility of the Government.

The NCC questioned 1,043 consumers to measure their attitude to the present regulations. The responses are published as Government working parties continue to poll businesses on unnecessary regulations they think should be scrapped.

Lady Wilcox, who chairs the NCC, said that consumers supported getting rid of useless red tape. 'However, we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

'We are extremely concerned that so far the Government's deregulation initiative is driven by perceived burdens on business rather than by any benefits to consumers.'

Neil Hamilton, the corporate affairs minister, said at the last Conservative Party conference that there were 3,000 unnecessary regulations hampering British businesses.

The NCC is worried that the Government has not asked businesses about the benefits of legislation to protect the consumer. It also believes that consumers and their representatives should be consulted before any rules are changed.

In the NCC poll nine out of 10 consumers said that consumer protection regulations - such things as the safety of goods and how accurately they are described in advertisements - should be the responsibility of the Government.

Fewer than a third, 29 per cent, believe that business can be relied upon to maintain current standards of consumer protection without Government regulation.

And, even among those who do, 88 per cent still say it is the Government's job to provide consumer protection regulations.

Lady Wilcox said that although regulation might increase costs for some manufacturers this would become a burden only where there was no resulting benefit to industry from, for instance, the introduction of fair competition or greater consumer faith in goods and services.

'Any deregulation bill in this year's Queen's Speech must specify exactly which regulations the Government wants to repeal,' Lady Wilcox said.

'It must not provide general powers for amending any regulations without public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny and debate, as some press reports suggest the Government is considering.'